Cold And Flu Remedies For The Autoimmune Sufferer

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Cold And Flu Remedies For The Autoimmune Sufferer | Autoimmune-Paleo.com

Dealing with a cold or flu isn’t a fun time for anyone, but it can be particularly tricky for those of us with autoimmune disease! In this article, I hope to explain to you why flu season affects those with autoimmunity a little bit differently, as well as give you some tips for getting on the path to recovery if you find yourself sick.

First, a story. When I was a teenager, I would suffer from recurring head colds that lasted all winter. At the sound of my first sniffle, mom would make me what she called a “cocktail”—a few ounces of orange juice with some extra vitamin C and powdered echinacea. For some reason, this drink always made me feel a million times worse than I did before I drank it… I would be hit by incredible brain fog, body aches and absolute lethargy. I never knew why, until recently, when I learned about the effects of immune stimulating herbs. I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s, that likely started in my teen years), and echinacea is an immune stimulant. Back then, mom and I used to fight because I didn’t want to take my “cocktail” when I was sick. Now I know better, realizing that some herbal remedies can cause autoimmunity to flare (sorry mom—I know you were trying to do your best!). And yes, these stimulants can affect you whether or not you are sick… see this article for more information about immune stimulants and autoimmune disease.

Another aspect that affects those of us with autoimmunity during cold and flu season is that sometimes recovery from an illness can take far longer. Think about it—our immune systems are already in overdrive. Fighting a virus can aggravate the immune system, sometimes resulting in a flare, or just a prolonged recovery period. Shortly after beginning the Autoimmune Protocol, I got the flu, and I was amazed how much progress I had lost in the month after I had recovered. I have heard this time and time again in the autoimmune community—recovering from a cold or flu can be a major setback.

So, what can you do? The good news, is that by transitioning your diet to the Autoimmune Protocol, you are increasing the nutrients that help strengthen and modulate the immune system. This would be the fat soluble vitamins A and D, as well as minerals such as zinc and selenium. The first year I did AIP I still got sick a couple of times, but in the last two years I have not been sick once. I still have days where I feel like I am “coming down with something”—maybe a scratchy throat in the morning, or feeling a little more tired than usual, but I always use some of these methods, get some rest, and I’m better by the next day. Considering how chronically sick I used to be, this is a true testament to the healing power of nourishing one’s body with these immune-strengthening nutrients over the long-term!

Here are some autoimmune-safe foods and supplements you can consider if you start to notice you are a little under the weather:

  • Bone Broth (drink a warm mug with some sea salt, or use in soups and stews)
  • Fat Soluble Vitamins A and D (found in FCLO and organ meats like liver)
  • Probiotics
  • Fermented Foods
  • Vitamin D (either in supplement form or from responsible sun exposure, if possible during where you live)
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C
  • Garlic (especially raw)
  • Ginger (especially raw)

Here are some remedies and products I like to use in addition to the above, depending on the circumstance:

  • Xlear (xylitol nasal spray that helps break up biofilm in the nasal passages)
  • Ginger steam (heat a pot of water with some sliced ginger in it; transfer to table and breathe in steam, covering your head with a towel)
  • Ginger juice/tea (juice a bunch of ginger and add a teaspoon to your tea or soup; alternately you can infuse some ginger slices in water)
  • Salt (you can use a salt water gargle for a sore throat, or use some salt water in a neti-pot for nasal irrigation)
  • Non-Immune Stimulating Herbal Teas (chammomile, mint)

In addition to the above, some lifestyle factors that are very important for recovery:

  • Rest! Above all else, your body needs you to slow down when you are sick. The immune system does not function when we are in fight-or flight mode.
  • Sleep. Make sure to get the maximum amount of sleep you can until you start to feel well again. In the week or two following an illness, continue to prioritize sleep in order to reduce chances of going into a flare.
  • Lymphatic Massage. This is great for drainage in the ears and sinuses. I like this self-massage on YouTube.
  • Movement. Don’t over-exercise or force yourself to work out when you are sick. Exercise is an added stress to the body, and doing too much too soon will hinder your recovery. That being said, it is important to move gently as soon as you are able, getting outside for some fresh air, maybe a short walk every day is ideal.

Ingredients to avoid or suspect (unless you have experimented and know you tolerate well):

  • Echinacea
  • Astralagus
  • Medicinal Mushrooms (shiitake, matikake, reishi)
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • Caffeine
  • Green Tea
  • Turmeric

Last but not least, the best remedy for colds and flus is preventing them in the first place! Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes fish, shellfish, organ meats, and fruits and vegetables of every color to ensure you are getting ample vitamins and minerals. Don’t overdo things; give your body rest when it asks for it and make sure you are getting quality sleep.

What is your best cold and flu remedy? Have you had a similar experience as I have with either immune-stimulating herbs or in taking a long time to recover?

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a cook and one of the bloggers behind Autoimmune Paleo. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner by the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is the author of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, a guide and recipe book for the autoimmune protocol, and AIP Batch Cook, a video-based batch cooking program. You also can find her on Instagram.

60 comments

  • Erin says

    Great list! I love elderberry syrup, too – especially when/if I come down with something. But there’s something so fantastic and soothing about good old Jewish penicillin {chicken soup} 🙂 I also love Thieve’s oil. I feel like with those along with good sleep I can take on almost anything Almost. 😉

    • julie says

      I thought elderberry was an immune stimulant like echinacea…I’m hesitant to use it for my family due to the AI issues on both sides.

      • Mickey says

        Julie,
        I do believe it does affect the immune system, but it doesn’t come up on the Th1/Th2 articles I have researched. My general rule of thumb with new herbs and supplements is to treat them like a reintroduction, and try when you are feeling well and not sick as to gauge a reaction.

        If anyone has personal experience with it, I’d be happy to update my list!

        Mickey

        • Lis says

          Hi,
          I was diagnosed with Hasimoto’s earlier this year, but have been symptomatic for over 7 years. I use Elderberry Syrup everyday during cold and flu season, and have never noticed a flare up, or a change in how I felt. But I do know that in some people Elderberry can cause the immune system to become more active, so err on the side of caution and try it when you are feeling well to gauge how you respond to it.

        • Cindy says

          How can a person found out if they have autoimmune disease? Is there a test? And, do you know if it’s expensive? I stay sick and I’m tired of being sick! Thanks and God Bless Much! ! ! ! ! ! !

          • Mickey Trescott says

            Hi Cindy! Unfortunately there isn’t a standalone test for autoimmune disease in general. First you need to see a doctor to talk about your symptoms and narrow down the possibilities. Some conditions (like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) only take an inexpensive blood test for a diagnosis, but others can be more complex. I hope you find some answers soon!

  • Great info! Especially the echinacea – very interesting.

  • It’s such a juggling act with the immune system in cold season when one has an autoimmune disorder! I haven’t seen any issues reported with elderberries, they have so many nutrients and antioxidants like other dark colored berries that perhaps their benefits balance the immune stimulant qualities. Great information!

  • Niko says

    Hi! Thank you for this, just in time! Could you explain why to suspect turmeric, mushrooms, green tea and grape seed extract? I know their benefits but do not understand the caution behind them…

    Thank you, stay well!

    • Mickey says

      Hi Nico, I recommend clicking through and reading the article linked at the end of the second paragraph. 🙂

      Mickey

  • Samantha says

    Hi Mickey,
    What are your feelings on the flu shot and the effects on those with an autoimmune disorder? Thanks in advance!

  • Holly says

    One thing I have gotten in the habit of using is a product by Enzymedica called Vira-Stop. It is a proteolytic enzyme that works at ‘eating’ the exterior protective coating on viruses, thereby allowing them to be destroyed easier.

    I discovered this because on top of my various auto immune illnesses, I am positive for both EBV and HHV-6.
    Vira Stop must be taken on an empty stomach or the enzymes will be wasted on food in your stomach.
    It is, now, one of the ONLY THING that will help me keep a cold down to only 1 week of suffering instead of a month and then bronchitis.

    I hope this helps someone…

    • Mickey says

      Holly,
      Thanks for sharing! I have heard of proteolytic enzymes for chronic viruses but I did not know they were effective on the common cold.

      Mickey

    • We love ViraStop in our family. And my mother swears by it as a remedy for herself, too.

      🙂

      – Stacey

      • Mickey says

        Stacey,
        Thanks for popping over to share!

        Mickey

      • Lucia says

        Hi Stacey and everybody, I’m trying to find more information about ViraStop & autoimmune conditions… anybody has any other experience to share? I feel like I don’t want to experiment too much on my body unless you all tell me it is safe! Anybody taking probiotics for this? Thanks to all of you!

    • Julie says

      Hi Holly, Ihave hashimoto and struggle with long colds every other month. Doctors think its allergies, maybe both, have been on antibiotics many many times….I was wondering if These enzimes wouls help me. Any side effects? Are we suppose to take them only when we are sick or in regular basis. Thank you for your help. Julie

    • Kim says

      Where can you but this? I have been sick for 3 weeks now and been through 3 rounds of antibiotics.

  • Sally says

    Great article- thanks!

    I’m wondering about using essential oils to help as well. I’m just learning more about them but wondering if there is a need to stay away from all immune stimulent oils, even in diffusing them in the air, or just directly on the skin?

    • Mickey says

      Sally,
      I haven’t heard about the negative effects of using essential oils for those of us with autoimmunity. I’d exercise caution if you are going to take anything internally and treat it like a reintroduction. I know a lot of people use thieves oil during cold season with good results.

      Mickey

  • Sally says

    Another quick question- reading about camu camu berry powder lately and how high it is in vitamin c. Wondering if aip friendly?

    • Mickey says

      Sally,
      As long as it is pure camu camu berry and itsn’t processed in a facility with non-AIP foods, it should be fine!

      Mickey

  • Heather says

    I have Epstein Barr Virus which reactivates when my body is stressed. I have discovered that taking antiviral botanicals like reishi mushroom, cats claw and monoluarin knocks out viruses if I start taking them at the first sign of symptoms. Has anyone else had experiences with any of these herbal remedies?

    • Mickey says

      Heather,
      I’ve had experience with monolaurin (a product called Lauricidin) and I don’t believe it to be an immune stimulant. Cat’s claw I don’t know much about, and reishi I definitely know is a stimulant and can cause some people to flare. Supplements affect us all differently though, so what may work/cause a reaction in one person may not in another.

      Hope it helps!

      Mickey

  • apelila says

    I’m taking LDN to support my immune system. Last year I didn’t get sick at all, even with a bunch of inconsiderate co-workers bringing their gems to the office.
    I have a question, you listed turmeric as something NOT to take….is that all forms or just that spice?
    I heard Chris Kresser suggested theracurmin specifically for Hashi’s patients on the Hashimotos Institute and I’ve been thinking about trying it. Your thoughts?

    • Mickey says

      Apelia,
      Turmeric can be problematic if it happens to stimulate the side of your immune system that is already stimulated. In contrast, if it stimulates the weak part of your immune system, it can be helpful.

      For most people with Hashimoto’s, turmeric stimulates the weak side and can be therapeutic. The catch is though, that some people can have the reverse. This is why I suggest staying away from all of these stimulants, until you can properly introduce and assess how they make you feel.

      Hope it helps!

      Mickey

  • Juliette Jose says

    Hi, I don’t know where to start! I need to make changes but what first! I eat a healthy diet with fish, lean meat, plenty of fruit and vegetables. I have had AI most of my life and at present I have Graves, Pulmonary Fibrosis, and PSC (primary sclorosing cholangitis) along with dry eye syndrome. My diet requirements differ greatly to a normal diet as I have an iliosomy due to previous ulcerative colitis. I have been reading your blogs with interest.

    • Mickey says

      Hi Juliette! I recommend picking up a copy of The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne. It has tons of information about the autoimmune protocol as well as how to customize it to your situation. Wishing you luck!

      Mickey

  • Kathy says

    Great article!! Thanks for the advice. I started getting a sore throat the other day and I was so amazed that the next day I woke up, it had completely gone! Seems AIP is good for the immune system!

    • Mickey says

      Kathy,
      Yep, I agree! I think it is because AIP is high in the nutrients that are required for a strong immune system 🙂

      Mickey

  • Karen says

    Hi Mickey, would Cordyceps be included in the possibly-immune-stimulating category with Medicinal Mushrooms? It was recommended as part of a Lyme protocol. But since I have Hashi, I don’t want to flare-up the autoimmune trying to kill out the borrelia! BTW, give your mom a hug from me. I’ve done the exact same thing to my kids (re: cocktail)!

  • Linda Morales says

    Hello! Great article. I think my daughter’s virus caught me and stimulated my immune system too much, so it caused a flare of. I have relapsing polychondritis which is rare but intense! It’s remained mild thankfully, but this flare has passed the point of natural treatment so i had to start a burst of prednisone (only when my trachea is involved). I can;t do the steam etc because it will cause my throat and nose inflammation in my case.

    Since a virus started this, I feel like I need to treat the flare and the virus and that can contradict. Hmmm…. Prednisone suppressed the immune system so the virus can go crazy, but I can’t overstimulate my system. Argh. 😉 Do the above items pertain to some with a cold and a flare up at the same time? Thank you so much!

    • Mickey says

      Hi Linda,

      I’m sorry to hear of your virus and flare! I do think this is a great place to start with someone who is working on both issues, barring anything you know you can’t tolerate (like the steam). Give yourself lots of rest and time to recover. I hope you feel better soon!

      Mickey

  • Cati says

    I have a very aggressive from of psoriatic arthritis – which presents similar to RA. I follow a strict form of the AIP protocol including a nightshade sensitivity. I am now following a “natural ketosis” protocol with my internist (certified Functional MD) which severely limits my intake of fruits and starchy vegetables, similar to Wahls Paleo Plus. I used to be a fruit bat so this last piece has been quite an adjustment. I must say that my inflammation and pain has dropped significantly!! so much that I’m somewhat flabbergasted – yay mobility!
    As for the Elderberry post, not realizing the extent to which my glycemic load was causing flairs – elderberry could be
    a trigger if a small serving wasn’t suspended in a lot of fat to enable the body to absorb the sugar slower, like coconut milk.

    • Mickey says

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Cati!

    • Diane says

      Hi,

      I have Hashimoto Thyroiditis.
      I’ve had a virus three times this season, needing some natural remedies, as well as OTC medication. I was going to take TheraFlu, but states on box, ask DR, b/4 taking.
      Can anyone recommend something for me?

      • Mickey Trescott says

        Hi Diane!
        Unfortunately we aren’t medical practitioners here and can’t comment on medication and medical conditions. The above article has some good ideas for natural, supportive therapies that those of us with autoimmune disease do well with. Hope it helps and that you make a quick recovery!

  • Jennifer says

    i’m trying to Pin this article and can’t find the button. Am I blind? And I didn’t see it on your Pinterest boards. Thanks.

    • Mickey says

      Jennifer–if you hover over the image up top, it will let you pin the article.

      Hope it helps!

      Mickey

  • EMILY OWEN says

    Hi There! long time lupus sufferer here that somehow has only recently stumbled upon this “new” information. I have yet to begin the AIP. I am more prone to follow a vegetarian/vegan diet so this is all a little foreign to me, but I am desperate for a solution other than more medication -which isnt working anyway. Thank you so much for putting this out there for someone like me!
    I am actually a little sick right now so this is perfect timing. I was wondering what you think about garlic and lupus? I was told once to avoid it since it is an immune booster. I haven’t given it up because I couldn’t bear the thought of life without it. Just wondering if you know if there is any actual truth to this?

    • Mickey says

      Emily,
      I know garlic is great for when you are sick and seems to be well-tolerated for those of us with AI, but I have not seen any studies showing that it can negatively impact those with autoimmune disease. I’d listen to your body and see how you feel, however–everything doesn’t work for everyone!

      Mickey

  • Lea says

    Sorry. Just saw your reply to an earlier post.

  • […] Cold and Flu Remedies for the Autoimmune Sufferer – Autoimmune Paleo […]

  • Chaille says

    I came down with a cold or sinus infection yesterday and went out and got Xlear after reading this article. I just noticed however that it has grapefruit seed extract as an ingredient. I’m only three weeks into my first AIP and concerned I might have just set back my healing process. Is there a reason why the extract in Xclear isn’t a concern given it’s on the list of things to avoid?

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Chaille,
      While GSE does come from a seed, I doubt that using it therapeutically, when you are sick, in your sinuses is likely to be a setback on AIP, but I would talk to your practitioner more about it if you are worried.

  • Brandi Hudman says

    What about elderberry syrup?

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Brandi,
      I’ve heard people say good things, but I haven’t tried personally.

  • Elsbeth says

    Why do we need to avoid turmeric when we have a cold? its the best for my arthritis. Everyone at work has a bad cold, however I am just keeping it at bay with eating my AIP. I did increase my turmeric, garlic and onions. I am on a small island and run out of a lot of things as my next food order is not due till next wednesday. Any other suggestions? I also got a bit of mouth ulcer and Throat is hurting.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Elsbeth,
      You don’t need to avoid turmeric – some people find that immune stimulants flare their condition, so it is a “be cautious” food. I personally feel good when I use turmeric when I am sick. I put it out there as a caution for folks. Have you tried ginger tea for your sore throat? That is usually the first thing I grab.

  • Corryne says

    Thanks Mickey, I’ve been following AIP. Recently felt I was getting sines situs, now mucous has moved to my chest. I read somewhere to drink 1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar w 1/2 cup water, a full lemon juiced & 1 tbsp honey. Unsuspecting I did it – now have very bad belly aches. Do you think I have burnt my stomach?
    Do you think to try & ward off a chest infection I should try your suggested garlic & ginger. Or do you think my stomach won’t be able to tolerate it? Thankyou – I wish I found your site earlier – so helpful

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Corryne!
      I’m sorry you are feeling sick, especially after trying the vinegar remedy – I think your stomach should be fine after getting some food in it, hopefully better by now? I’m not a medical practitioner and can’t give specific advice, but many people try the home remedies above before turning to conventional medicine (which I am not in any way suggesting to avoid, by the way!) if they need to. Personally, I try to deal at home until I have a fever or symptoms just don’t “sit right” with my intuition – then I go to get checked out by a doctor. Something that might help soothe your stomach is drinking bone broth, and a ginger steam might soothe your airways. Hope you get better soon!

  • Elena Shadle says

    I have a very unclear lupus diagnosis. Medication makes me sicker. But everything I have read in this website has changed my life. It explains every bizarre symptom I’ve ever had that a doctor couldn’t explain, including the sensitivity to turmeric which used to be so good for me. I have a cold and I feel like I know how to take care of myself with more caution. Thank you so much for sharing for those who are still hunting for answers.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Elena! We are so happy you find the information helpful!

  • Aya Abdelaziz says

    Hello,

    I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and it seems like you’re article is not acceptable to ALL autoimmune diseases; turmeric is extremely helpful for rheumatoid arthritis so I’m not sure why you advise to avoid it.. this gives me an indication that I shouldn’t be reading this page as it may not really help me

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Aya! While turmeric might work for you, it is an immune stimulant, and may irritate another person with RA. We don’t make blanket suggestions here, but instead give folks some ideas of dietary interventions that might be either helping or harming them. Hope that makes sense!

  • […] helping rid myself of sore throats. This was good advice and no price tag. I had just come across the autoimmune protocol. Page after page I kept reading. Most of the advice made sense to me and the stuff that didn’t, […]

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